watch

“Coastal Grandma” - Why Gen Z wants to skip adulthood

You’ve likely seen the Costal Grandma: the older, usually white, woman cocooned by her cream knit sweater, either lounging on the beach, or topping her roast chicken with red wine demi-glace. Characters like Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give, Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia, Diane Lane in Under The Tuscan Sun or Jane Fonda in Grace and Frankie have been central to this affluent aesthetic. Her vibe is in right now – and not just for those in her demographic. Many Gen Zers, now in their late teens and early twenties, are proudly trying her on for size. So what’s behind this trend?

Transcript

After a few years of exceptional uncertainty, does the rise of the coastal grandmother aesthetic prove that above everything, gen-z just wants to slow down?

You’ve likely seen her: The older, usually white, woman cocooned by her cream knit sweater, either lounging on the beach, topping her roast chicken with red wine demi-glace, or enjoying a glass of Chardonnay with the girls. Characters like Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give, Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia, Diane Lane in Under The Tuscan Sun or Jane Fonda in Grace and Frankie have been central to this affluent aesthetic, defined by soft furnishings, comforting fabrics, a classically New England vibe, and nostalgic, breezy, middle-of-the-road music.

What’s with the turtlenecks? It’s the middle of summer. / I’m just a turtleneck kind of gal

- Something’s Gotta Give

Her vibe is in right now–and not just for those in her demographic. Many gen Zers, now in their late teens and early twenties, are proudly trying her on for size. So what’s behind this trend? One answer could be that it’s a reaction to rough times that have got us all fantasizing about skipping over the stressful middle parts of life and fast-forwarding to the era when all that’s left to do is, well, live, laugh, love.

“They have this new line, ‘Shore Living,’ which is like beach decor…and I swear the spirit of a 75-year-old grandma who lives on the shore entered my body.”

- dutchdeccc, TikTok

But it’s also a kind of aging-up cosplay. And it’s interesting that after a period when hustle culture was telling people to aspire to a fast-paced, urban lifestyle—one that left people susceptible to burnout—this trend is still focusing on affluence, but instead envisioning it as something far slower, less stressful, and more carefree. Here’s our take on the coastal grandma, and why the anxieties of modern life are making gen-z want to skip to the end.

CHAPTER ONE: LIFE DOESN’T HAVE TO BE SO HARD-How the Young are Getting Inspired by the Graceful Older Woman

One of the ironies of young people adopting the Coastal Grandmother as a hero is that this character’s story is typically all about celebrating the mojo of a woman in a later phase of life.

One woman’s presence looms large over the coastal grandmother aesthetic, and that is Diane Keaton–especially in her role as Erica Barry from Something’s Gotta Give, directed by Nancy Meyers. (In fact, pretty much all heroines from Meyers films contribute to this aesthetic.

Erica embodies the coastal grandmother aesthetic to a tee—the beautiful Hamptons home, the cream sweaters, the air of an Ina Garten-esque domestic goddess. And beyond the look, what’s attractive about her—and about other coastal grandmother heroines—is just how put together and in control of their lives they are. But it’s interesting that Gen Z are relating to someone like Erica in their young adulthood – because her takeaway in Something’s Gotta Give is all about how being an older woman doesn’t mean you can’t have exciting, romantic adventures. While Erica’s love interest Harry starts out the movie only dating women under 30 (and in a relationship with Erica’s daughter), he eventually falls for Erica with far more intensity than he’s ever felt for a younger woman. In the media, we typically see passion and carefree wildness in narratives about adolescence so to see these arcs for older women is a reassuring reminder that life doesn’t just end when we hit a certain age.

Another canonical coastal grandmother text that reinforces this lesson is Mamma Mia. Meryl Streep is living her best coastal grandmother life (not in a classic Northeastern US location; on a beautiful Greek island). But again, her story is all about her getting this new experience at an age when she thinks she’s had all her excitement. In the sequel, we flash back to see those love affairs when she was younger, and in her revisiting them and rekindling them, the spark and the magic is still there ,”In How Stella Got Her Groove Back, the coast almost becomes this liminal space for Stella to transition between her hustling, hard-working lifestyle that wasn’t really making her happy, and something with a lot more balance. She falls in love because she’s open to that new experience. And Whoopi Goldberg’s character Delilah also nails the perfect coastal grandmother aesthetic In more recent TV, Grace and Frankie embody this same sense that it’s never too late for the chic coastal grandmother to loosen up a little and live her best life

While it’s a little counterintuitive that 20-somethings are inspired by this message, it also makes a weird kind of sense: in a time when it feels like Erica Barry’s lifestyle will never be attainable, this aesthetic and these stories provide both a wish fulfillment and a reassurance that there’s no rush – there’s still plenty of time to eventually arrive at the life you dream of living. More broadly, too, we can see a cultural merging of older and younger female aesthetics in some ways. Some young women are dressing, doing makeup or getting plastic surgery to project an aura older than their actual age, while the chicness of the coastal grandmother is also extending down to a more middle-aged look. Another “Coastal Grandmother” aesthetic touchstone in modern TV is Big Little Lies – and it stars a cast of chic, together mothers, not grandmothers, though the age range of the stars reflects how many women in our culture are now having children later and owning a more mature, yet undeniably elegant vibe in this phase of life. Today celebrities of all ages are being lauded for their coastal grandma vibes – from Oprah, to millennials Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift while Anne Hathaway explicitly posted about how much she identifies with the aesthetic

In reality TV, too, while previous eras may have been obsessed with Paris Hilton, today there’s an outpouring of Internet love for her mother, Kathy Hilton, who’s featured on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills – and gives off relaxed, chic Coastal Grandma vibes

good shoots of her looking like a Coastal Grandma for visuals with a kooky spin. Fans enjoy experiencing just how comfortable and carefree her life seems compared to ours both because she’s so rich, and because she’s at a more established age when she has less to prove (though of course she still takes planning a dinner party very seriously.

TRANSCENDING THE TEDIUM OF WORK / HUSTLE CULTURE IS A JOKE

If there’s any one thing that defines the coastal grandma, it’s the fact that she doesn’t have to “work” in the way young people are expected to as they grow older. Instead, her life centers around leisure, humor, community, and joy. Something that Big Little Lies also features heavily This ties into a wider move from gen-z to distance themselves from aesthetics that have negative associations with stress, striving and burnout. We can see the roots of the coastal grandmother trend in the earlier “old money” trend that went viral on TikTok in 2021. Vox’s Rebecca Jennings argues that it, and now possibly the coastal grandma, offers “a pendulum swing” against the new money of today garnered by the tech industry and hustle culture.

The problem with the new money influencer aesthetic is that it makes these lavish lifestyles seem achievable if only you work hard enough — and in turn put the blame on you if you don’t achieve it. But with inequality growing, there’s been a mass realization you can work as hard as you possibly can, and still not be able to afford the life you want. So, the coastal grandmother may ironically be offering – through images associated with old money – a playful and elegant challenge to the false-meritocratic claims of new money.

“Cashmere sweater is a must, because what else will you wear to pick up pumpkin scones from your local french bakery?”

- lexincoleta, TikTok

TikToks often communicate a sense of humorous awareness of the wealth gaps underlying it all

Indeed, the videos almost frame career growth as a joke. Instead, life’s work is made to center around domesticity and community: hosting dinner parties, shopping at farmer’s markets, looking after beautiful homes and running errands. On the one hand, this could be seen as quite conservative. These are the roles women have been expected to perform, and the aesthetic is holding up highly privileged examples of inherited wealth. However, the difference is that in this trend, you’re performing these roles not out of a sense of duty or exclusivity, but out of joy and self-care. It invites women, and anyone really, to prioritize pleasure, community, and comfort just as much as career and work ethic, if not more.

CHAPTER THREE: CHAPTER THREE: CLASSIC, COMFORTABLE, CHIC

While seemingly bumping Gen Zers up a few decades, the coastal grandmother is also totally in line with wider gen-z fashion trends. Tiktok user Lex Nicoleta claims to have coined the coastal grandma term, and she defines it using three words:: classic, comfortable, and chic. First, the classic evokes an idea of nostalgia, and we know that gen-z are nostalgia-obsessed, in love with vintage or second-hand clothes and romanticizing eras when they weren’t even born as somehow simpler and easier. It’s a form of escapism – and the escapism of coastal grandmother literally invites people to leave the rat race of the city and go for a more relaxing walk on the beach.

The comfort of the coastal grandmother – with pieces like big striped sweaters, new balance sneakers, and linen trousers – also fits a generation that’s brought back crocs and sleepsuits, and run with athleisure, oversized clothing, and a casual vibe. Finally, there’s the chic of the coastal grandmother aesthetic. With the “clean-girl aesthetic” taking off around the same time, there’s been a push for more elevated, upscale fashion. And it makes sense that the pristine coastal grandmother aesthetic would take off as we moved out of the slobbish “goblin mode” styles that many of us adopted during lockdowns. Now, there’s a renewed desire to be stylish and make an effort. Coupled with the fact that these trends are designed to go viral on image-focused apps like tiktok and instagram, it’s these details and flourishes that have really made the coastal grandmother aesthetic take off.

OUTRO

Fundamentally, the coastal grandmother aesthetic is a hopeful one. It not only imagines you’ll get the blissful retirement you’ve been promised, but also that it will be centered around the natural world–in an era when gen-z rank the climate crisis as the most important issue facing their generation. So perhaps embodying the coastal grandma is an expression of faith that a joyful, transcendent lifestyle is in the cards for us – not something that’s just reserved for a select few or that may soon be lost.

“Cut some flowers, let in some sunshine, and let’s ride this trend for as long as we can.”

- thestyleequation, Tiktok